BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Rich Lowry, in your book, "Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years," buried in your book, page 301, "Clinton was a weepy, undisciplined, talkative, indecisive, sexually incontinent embodiment of America`s alleged weakness and corruption."
How long did it take you to think that one up?
RICH LOWRY, AUTHOR, "LEGACY: PAYING THE PRICE FOR THE CLINTON YEARS": Well, that was towards the end of the book, so I`d spent, you know, a year thinking about this guy, reading about him, talking to people about him. And you know, that was his weakness. He had many strengths. He was very articulate. He was very smart -- excellent, obviously, at forging connections with people in a very short time. But his problem was that he lacked strength.
And as I say in the book, there are really two basic ingredients to presidential leadership. You need basic, fundamental governing principles and character. And Clinton, unfortunately, had neither of those.
LAMB: What would you say to someone who is a big fan of Bill Clinton`s, who`s reaching for the clicker, at this point, saying, I don`t have to put up with this anymore. I`m not going to listen to Rich Lowry.
LOWRY: I would say, Listen to this, and let`s have a factual discussion about what really happened in the 1990s. And that`s what this book is all about. It`s not a hate book. There are plenty of criticisms of Clinton, very sharp ones that -- you`ve just read one -- in this book. But I took a lot of time and a lot of care to be as factual and fair-minded as possible, to really engage in these arguments in a serious way.
LAMB: You also compared in the book Richard Nixon with Bill Clinton and George Bush with Bill Clinton. Here`s what you said about the Bush-Clinton connection. "Clinton is chronically late, Bush a stickler for promptness. Clinton tolerated casual wear or even less in the Oval Office. Bush insists on coat and tie. Clinton is verbose and slippery, Bush, terse and blunt. The most important difference is that Bush represents a different aspect of America, a part of the country that is less touchy-feely, is more insistent on personal accountability, and importantly, is more at home with the military. It is the other America."
LOWRY: Yes. This is a split that has always been out there in the country, but was really highlighted in the Clinton years. And his initial genius -- Clinton -- was of being able to sort of paper over this gap. You know, he went to Yale Law School. He hobnobbed with celebrities. Yet he had the Bubba side of him. You know, he`s from Arkansas. He talked about having Astroturf in the back of his truck when he was a young man.
But what happened, especially in the Monica scandal, is the country was really polarized culturally. And part of the reason we`re having such a vicious fight over the Clinton and Bush records and presidencies is because they both represent the opposite extremes in that cultural split. And we`re getting a very stark sort of experiment and two different styles of guy in the Oval Office and two different styles of governance.
LAMB: Go back to your statement about "George Bush represents a different aspect of America, is more insistent on personal accountability." What evidence do you have of that?
LOWRY: Well, Clinton, the whole idea was that he could say one thing and do another. He could, you know, have sex with an intern in the Oval Office and lie about it. And this was all supposed to be forgotten in kind of a haze of emotion and feeling. I`m very sorry. I get misty-eyed, and we go and talk about it on "Oprah" and forget about it. And Bush just represents a sterner aspect of America.
And it`s caught most -- I think most starkly and most -- in the most relevant way for these guys as commander-and-chief, in the sort of relationship they have with the military. Clinton got off on the wrong foot with these guys, the military, one because of his draft history, two because he was pushing gays in the military, three just because of the kind of guy he is, Bill Clinton. You know, the sort of folks who inhabit the combat arms of the military just don`t have a natural connection with him. They do with George Bush.
Now, whatever you say about his landing on the aircraft carrier, whether that was a political stunt, whether it was premature, you could see the very real connection between those guys and George Bush. And that`s because Bush is a "red state" American. When he goes on vacation, he doesn`t go out to Martha`s Vineyard to hang out with intellectuals and celebrities. He goes to clear brush on his ranch. And that`s the kind of thing folks in the military connect with more naturally than Bill Clinton.
LAMB: Go back to the statement that he doesn`t say one thing and do another. If you had somebody across from you right now that was on the other side, they would say, Well, he told us during the campaign no nation building. And now we`re spending billions and billions on nation building.
LOWRY: Right. Right.
LAMB: What about that?
LOWRY: Well, that`s a good point. Now, what has happened is circumstances have changed. And I think the right, as a general matter, was too dismissive of nation building because of the experience we had in the 1990s, when it was almost always undertaken in countries or areas that were peripheral to America`s national interests.
You know, we did a huge amount of nation building in Europe after World War II. We did nation building in various forms during the cold war. These were exercises that were very much in America`s national interests. And what Bush and other conservatives realized after 9/11 is that sometimes there`s very much in the country`s interest to reach in to other nations and affect how they are governed. So circumstances changed.
But you know, Bush was always -- I think you always knew what his reaction would be to some sort of attack of that nature. He was asked in the very first Republican presidential debate, when he was at his most sort of stumbly and worst and least comfortable, What would you do if someone told you Saddam had acquired weapons of mass destruction, or a nuclear bomb? I forget exactly what the question was. And Bush said, I`d take `em, out. And it was a question afterwards whether he said, I would take him out or take them out. It turned out he probably meant both.
LAMB: On the back of your book, you`re endorsed by William F. Buckley, your boss, Peggy Noonan, Michael Barone and Rush Limbaugh. You are the editor of "The National Review." What does that mean? And how long have you had that job?
LOWRY: I have been editor of "National Review" since the beginning of 1998. "National Review" is generally taken as a bible of American conservatism. It`s where people -- conservatives go to get their marching orders. It is where intramural conservative disputes are kind of hashed out. And it`s had that role for, you know, going on 50 years.
LAMB: Just for a minute, what`s the difference between "The National Journal," "The Weekly Standard" and "American Spectator"?
LOWRY: Well, let`s see. "The Weekly Standard" is inside Washington. It comes out once a week. So it`s more -- a more sort of insidery feel. If you want to know the minutiae of what is the obsession in Washington of the hour, you go to "The Weekly Standard." It also has a neocon bent, which is a phrase that`s been -- a word that`s been misused a lot recently. It basically means they`re much more enthusiastic about spreading democracy abroad. As a general matter, they`re a little less concerned with limiting government and cutting taxes than other conservatives are.
LAMB: Would you two -- would, Bill Kristol, who`s the editor of that publication, and you, the editor of "National Review," differ on very many things?
LOWRY: It would all be nuances. It would mean a lot probably to each of us individually, but the average person out in the country probably couldn`t find, you know, much of a difference. Intervention in a place like Sierra Leone or, you know, some place in Africa that`s not so important, we might have slightly different takes on that. We might have different takes about how easy it is to spread democracy in various places abroad. But the differences are very small.
And one sort of misconception in the whole Iraq debate is that certain people have argued that anyone in favor of going into Iraq was a neo-conservative, which was absolutely insane. You had real conservative consensus of all stripes, except for a very small number of paleo-conservatives, who were in favor of this, whether they were neo-conservatives who wanted to do it to spread democracy, or whether they were more national security realist-type conservatives who just wanted to do it because Saddam represented a threat to us.
LAMB: So how`s it differ with Bob Tyrell`s "The American Spectator," which got a lot of visibility during the Clinton years for wanting to get him out of the office?
LOWRY: I don`t know. It`s hard to -- "The American Spectator" in its current version, it`s a little hard to tell what its specific ideological imprint is.
LAMB: It`s back -- after being owned or run by George Gilder for a while, but it`s back in Bob Tyrell`s hands.
LOWRY: Yes, I think it`s a sort of standard conservative publication. And what`s always set them apart, besides the scandal coverage they did in the 1990s, was having a sense of humor, being a real outsiders, kind of throwing bombs and making fun of people. And so I think it`s more a sensibility with "The American Spectator," rather than an ideological slant.
LAMB: I ask you all these questions because if you now know where you`re coming from, I want to ask you -- this was the point that I got throughout this whole book. And I want to read every single name. Why did these people talk to you? These are all former Clinton administration people who you have quoted in here fresh. Eric Holder, who was at the Justice Department, Bernie Nussbaum, the counsel at the White House, Richard Holbrooke, the U.N. ambassador, Wayne Downing -- was he in the Clinton White House or was...
LOWRY: He was not in the Clinton White House. He was the head of the U.S. special forces up until around 1995 or 1996.
LAMB: But left the Bush White House not happy with the situation there in...
LOWRY: That`s right.
LAMB: Howard Paster, the congressional liaison, Bruce Reed, Robert Reich, the former labor secretary, Paul Glastris...
LOWRY: That`s right.
LAMB: Is that the way you pronounce it?
LOWRY: He`s the editor of "The Washington Monthly."
LOWRY: That`s right.
LAMB: And at the time, was he...
LOWRY: He was a speechwriter.
LAMB: Speechwriter. Leon Panetta, Don Baer -- Leon Panetta was the budget manager and also the chief of staff. Don Baer, communications, Alice Rivlin was at...
LOWRY: She was at OMB.
LAMB: OMB for a while, but she also went over to the...
LOWRY: Federal Reserve.
LAMB: ... Federal Reserve. Elaine Carmack -- her job?
LOWRY: Kamarck .
LOWRY: She was a domestic adviser. She headed the "Reinventing Government" and then became -- she was associated with Al Gore.
LAMB: Bill Daley what ran the Gore campaign but also was at Commerce. And Tony Lake, the national security adviser. Why did these people talk to you, the editor of "National Review," about Bill Clinton?
LOWRY: There are also, I have to say, many others that I just couldn`t quote by name.
LAMB: Well, there`s a lot of former officials quoted unnamed.
LOWRY: Right. I think they just want to get -- it`s differing reasons. Some of them are just temperamentally inclined to talk to any reporter. Others of them, I think, are just very -- are intellectually honest people and just want to engage in the give-and-take and try to convince you. Others are just very friendly and open.
I would hope my reputation for the kind of writing I`ve done in the past has helped convince some of them to talk to me, knowing where I was coming from -- and there was a lot of joking about that with some of these guys -- but also knowing that, you know, I wasn`t going to mangle their quotes or distort them, and I would legitimately try to understand where they`re coming from and, you know, modify my thinking accordingly.
LAMB: Did you happen to go -- did you go back to each one of them and check the quotes with them or...
LOWRY: It differed. Some of them were just, you know, plop down your tape recorder and use whatever you want. Others -- most of them, I had conversations on background with them, with the understanding that I would come back with on-the-record quotes so they could approve them. And that reflected a certain level of discomfort. You know, they wanted to be absolutely sure I wasn`t taking things out of context or distorting them, and sign off before I actually used them.
LAMB: Did you try to talk to Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton?
LOWRY: I did not try to talk to Hillary. I considered it basically fruitless. I did put in an interview request with Bill Clinton and never heard back from his office.
LAMB: And are there others that you wanted to talk to that wouldn`t talk to you?
LOWRY: Yes. It differed. There were some who just, you know, wouldn`t answer my calls. There were others who just said, No, I`m not interested in talking to you. But I tried to get to as many as I could because, obviously, the more of these people you talk to, the deeper your understanding of what they were up to.
LAMB: These quotes I`m going to read are out of context, but I just wanted to...
LOWRY: Well, OK. Well, they`ll have a beef with you, then, not me.
LAMB: Yes, but what I`m -- the reason I want to do this is you can put them in context...
LAMB: ...and why they said what the -- Richard Holbrooke, former U.N. ambassador -- "Clinton is profoundly intuitive. His mind works like nothing I`ve ever seen. He`s brilliant and is able to see every side of each issue. This is usually an advantage but not always."
LOWRY: That`s a very nice way of saying this guy is extremely smart, but he couldn`t make a decision, and his intelligence, in some ways, worked against him because he -- it made him indecisive. And that`s a key quality you want in a president, is to be able to make a decision and just stick with it and not agonize over it and not change your mind 24 hours later. And Clinton did that again and again.
In Bosnia, for instance, if you look at the three-year history of the administration trying to deal with that crisis, right at the beginning, he sends Warren Christopher to go argue the Europeans into accepting a strategy of so-called "lift and strike," lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims and hitting the Serbs with air strikes, if necessary.
While Christopher is there in Europe, physically going from capital to capital, Bill Clinton reads an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal," which, in its way, is very admirable, right? This guy is engaged in the debate. He`s interested in what people are writing. And he reads it and he changes his mind. And before Warren Christopher has come back, Bill Clinton has abandoned this policy because he`s read one op-ed. And that`s the weakness that Dick Holbrooke is talking about.
LAMB: Don Baer, who was in the communications office -- "I think he never wanted to make snap judgments. He has a very, very active and engaged intelligence. I think he wanted to understand the various sides of issues before he came down hard on them, even though he started from a certain set of principles that he believed were right. It may be that process of doing that, at the end of the day, required too much time and too much lack of discipline to really focus himself and his administration."
LOWRY: That`s really exactly the same point as Holbrooke was making.
LAMB: Howard Paster -- "Senior staff meetings grew to 35 to 45 people. Anybody could come. There wasn`t any list circulated. They had chairs three deep in the Roosevelt Room. You don`t run a place like that."
LOWRY: Yes. Now, he`s talking about the early chaos in the administration, which actually exactly mirrored the chaos in the initial two years of Clinton`s governorship in Arkansas, and it reflected, again, his character. To have some discipline and run a place with some order, you have to be able to tell people no. You know, No, you cannot come to this meeting. There are just going to be five of us. These are the important people. These are the people I need to hear from. And Clinton was just unable to do that.
And he was, you know, constantly running late and disorganized himself. He didn`t really trust a chief of staff. He didn`t want to have a strong chief of staff because he would have felt threatened by such a person. So therefore, it was chaos. And these were a bunch of kids who, you know, thought they were just finally going to show the old fogies how you really run such a place, and they made a huge mess of it.
LAMB: A former senior administration official -- when you call somebody a senior administration official, how senior is that?
LOWRY: That`s a good question because almost everyone wants to be identified as a senior administration official. The way I would put it, it`s someone whose name you would recognize.
LAMB: Could it be someone that you`ve talked to already, and they say at this point, Don`t quote me personally on this but use my quote?
LOWRY: Yes, it could be either someone I`ve quoted by name elsewhere, or it could be someone just entirely different.
LAMB: All right, here`s what the former senior administration official said. "Most of the leaks were coming because people were trying to show to journalist friends of theirs that they were in the room and had a hand in big decisions. Many people who witnessed it would call it the Stephanopoulos problem. There was just a lot of foul careerism on the part of some people around Clinton."
What`s the Stephanopoulos problem?
LOWRY: Well, a lot of people thought that George Stephanopoulos was out for his own interests. He wanted to convince reporters and journalists that he was in the know, that he was important, that he was smarter than everyone else. Therefore, he talked to them much too much. And some former Clinton officials think there was a lot of that going on, and it just didn`t serve Bill Clinton`s interests very well.
And this played into one of the more bizarre episodes of the Clinton administration. I mean, it`s really incredible to think this kind of thing happened in the White House. But when Clinton -- after the crushing congressional defeat in 1994, he called in Dick Morris, you know, his most trusted adviser from Arkansas, to help him out, to basically come -- become his chief of staff. But he didn`t tell any of the other officials.
He would, in some episodes, hide Dick Morris in his White House residence. And Clinton would go out with a speech, talk to George Stephanopoulos about it. Stephanopoulos would recommend some changes, and then Clinton would say, Well, I`ll be right back. I`m just going to head into the residence for a minute. I`ll be right back. And then he comes out with an entirely different speech because Dick Morris is hiding in there, in order to change whatever changes George Stephanopoulos has made.
And one of the reasons for this is that Clinton didn`t trust the people around him enough to give them the crushing news that they were being supplanted by Dick Morris. He feared what they would tell the press. And also, some other Clinton officials told me the reason for this is that Clinton was just conditioned to think that he was vulnerable and that if he alienated people who were close to him and had been around him for a couple years, they were going to know secrets that would be very dangerous for them to go and spread around if they became alienated.
LAMB: Dick Morris said this. "I believe Bill Clinton totally and completely wasted his second term, partially due to his laziness in 1997. And in 1998, he totally tanked up by Monica. And in 1999 and 2000, his entire presidency was devoted to the single goal of getting his wife elected to the Senate." In 2000, his entire presidency was devoted to that?
LOWRY: That`s an exaggeration, and Dick Morris speaks in broad-brush terms. But I think he`s essentially right about the second term. I would blame -- well, the ultimate blame goes to Clinton, but I partly blame Morris for that, as well, because he came up with a formula that helped Clinton win reelection, which is, Let`s poll everything. You know, Anything that scores 60 percent or so, that`s very popular, let`s talk about that. And a lot of these things ended up being minutiae that is just contemptible in its lack of importance -- V-chips and school uniforms and teenage curfews. And Clinton won on those things in 1996. And some of his more liberal, idealistic aides, like Robert Reich, told him, What are you doing? If you are elected on these things, you have a mandate for nothing. You`re going to have a nothing second term. And that`s more or less what ended up happening.
And it`s very stark if you just -- if you look at the sort of ambitions and statements Hillary and Bill had initially, you know, they conceived themselves as being the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor, and this is what they ended up doing, you know, polling and sticking with the easiest possible issues,
LAMB: The first word, first sentence of your book, first chapter -- "By his second term, Bill Clinton`s presidency had achieved a kind of Seinfeldian self-reverentiality. It was -- he was a president devoted to his presidential legacy, whatever that might be." How did you get your title, "Legacy"?
LOWRY: I got it from him. It was a word he invoked all the time. It`s a word White House aides were obsessed with. According to David Gergen, at one point, there had to be a ruling from the White House, from on high, Please do not use the word legacy with reporters anymore. And the central irony and one of the central themes of my book is Bill Clinton was obsessed with his legacy. He with every fiber of his being wanted to be great. And then partly because of that self-obsession, he never achieved it.
You know, George Bush, whatever you think of him, has a grand and great goal in the Middle East, which is to fundamentally shift its politics through the invasion, occupation and the remaking of Iraq. That is a big ambition. One of the reasons he is able to pursue that is he`s not obsessed with himself and with his legacy. He`s not sitting there thinking, Well, what do I do to be great? He`s doing it because he thinks it`s important. Bill Clinton was never able to lift himself out of his own ego, to apply his presidency to such a great goal, and more importantly, to take such a great risk, because he was always too fearful of it.
LAMB: I don`t want to go through the litany, but you know people who like Bill Clinton and don`t like George Bush would say, at this point, Well, we had eight years of prosperity.
LAMB: More people working than ever. Now we have three million jobs that are gone, and the economy`s been soft, and we`re in the middle of a war costing us billions and billions of dollars. So which one do you want?
LOWRY: Right. Well, that`s exactly what they say, and they say it every day. And what I do in "Legacy" is I take a chapter and look at the economy and what made it grow because what you`ve said is an extremely superficial sound bite. I don`t blame you for saying it because it`s what they say. But let`s get in the weeds a little bit and figure out what policies are responsible for making the economy grow.
That`s what they never want to do. You know, Sid Blumenthal has written an 800-page book defending Clinton in every single aspect, defending every jot and tittle of every lie. But he just asserts in a couple sentences that Clinton was responsible for the economy. Hillary Clinton, whose book is similarly ambitious in terms of defending and puffing up the Clinton record, same thing, just a couple sentences asserting. I go into it.
Look at the recession of the early 1990s. It ended officially in March, 1991. That was about seven months before Clinton even announced his candidacy. In 1992, when Bill Clinton`s going up and down the country saying, This is the worst recession we have experienced since the great Depression, the economy was growing at 3 percent annually. It was a lie. And it wasn`t even -- that recession in the early 1990s wasn`t as bad as the recession in the early 1980s, which was much more severe, for good reasons.
So he gets in. He`s run a campaign based on turning around the American economy on huge amounts of new federal spending. Alan Greenspan and other -- some of his conservative economic advisers say, That`s insane. That will do nothing for the economy. He fortunately abandons all those plans and totally reverses his rhetoric on them, and then he passes a deficit reduction plan in 1993. I go into this at great length. It didn`t reduce the deficit significantly. It didn`t make the economy grow. The economy was already growing. And it didn`t reduce interest rates.
That`s the big justification for it. Supposedly, it reduced interest rates and that set off an economic boom. That is false, as well.
So what happened is, in the mid and late-1990s, you had this huge technology-driven boom in America. We`ve had this kind of -- periods of great economic creativity before. Bill Clinton, his contribution to it was to get out of the way with various policies, a hands-off policy towards the Internet, generally free trade policy. He signed a big tax cut in 1997. All these were good things.
If Bill Clinton -- all his defenders would just say, I was the guy who got out of the way of the great boom in the 1990s, I would say, Fine. I would agree with that. That was a good thing. That`s not what they say. Instead, they puff up this 1993 economic plan in a way that is demonstrably false, to try to make it sound as though this one small tax increase created the 1990s boom.
LAMB: The last sentence of your book -- I`m not going to read it for a second. I want to ask you a question. Did you think it out?
LOWRY: What do you mean by think it out?
LAMB: Did you do it on purpose?
LOWRY: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: At what point did you write the last sentence? Had you had it written long before you got there?
LOWRY: I had thought about -- do you want me to talk about it before you read it?
LOWRY: I had thought about that incident, and the book end with Bush`s inauguration. Bill Clinton has been, you know, up all night the last couple nights, sort of squeezing every last drop out of his presidency and his power and pardoning international fugitives and all the rest of it. And he`s so exhausted that he nodded off on the podium, which is just an extraordinarily undignified thing to do. I mean, it`s just amazing. So I had thought of that pretty far in advance as the sort of perfect capstone for the Clinton presidency.
LAMB: Well, the sentence is, "He fell asleep."
LOWRY: "He fell asleep."
LAMB: In the earlier reference to the Seinfeldian world, what did you mean by that, for those who aren`t "Seinfeld" followers?
LOWRY: Well, "Seinfeld" was a show about the show. It`s the Seinfeld show about Seinfeld. And Bill Clinton`s legacy was going to be -- ended up being about him seeking a legacy, but again, not freeing himself from his own self-obsession and weakness and ego enough to go out there and take the kind of risks that`s necessary to have true presidential greatness.
LAMB: Back to some more quotes. Mickey Kantor, who was his trade representative?
LOWRY: That`s right.
LAMB: And the subject is Monica Lewinsky. "It`s his own fault." This is a quote to you exclusive. "No one did this to him. He did it to himself. No one brought this on him except himself."
Was that said in a hostile way over the phone?
LOWRY: No. I was in person with...
LAMB: It was in person?
LOWRY: ... Mickey Kantor, a very nice man, very pleasant. And it`s -- look, that`s just a common-sense thing to say. And it strikes us as perhaps a little extraordinary that a Clinton official would say that because so many of them have been caught up in this ridiculous defense of Clinton on the Monica matter, which is that, you know, it`s all the fault of, you know, three conservative lawyers who conspired to get him.
No. I mean, even Sid Blumenthal says this in his book. Clinton knew -- he knew full well that the JFK rules that made it possible for a president to fool around in the White House and get away with it and have the press ignore it -- those rules were gone. He knew full well the consequences of what he was doing, and he did it anyway. And in that sense, Kantor is exactly right. Only he is to blame for what happened.
LAMB: Dick Morris again -- "He was terrified by blood because of his own lack of a service record." What`s that alluding to?
LOWRY: Well, Morris`s theory is that Clinton was afraid if he ordered U.S. troops into any action where they were killed, he would get viciously criticized as, Look, you`re this draft dodger who is sending our boys into these sort of missions that you weren`t willing to undertake yourself. And that accounted for his caution. I don`t know whether that`s sort of a psychological theory. I`m not sure whether that`s right or not. But it certainly, operationally, something like that was going on because all of Clinton`s wars were engaged mostly from 15,000 feet, with the premise that there should never be any American casualties.
LAMB: By the way, did you try to talk to Madeleine Albright or Bill Perry or...
LOWRY: I know I tried to talk to Albright. I`m not sure -- I`m pretty sure I tried to talk to Perry, as well. It all kind of runs together.
LAMB: James Woolsey, former CIA director, on Iraq. Quote, "So after a while, they fired a couple dozen cruise missiles into an empty building in the middle of the night, which is a sufficiently weak response to be almost laughable." He`s now one of the big hawks on the whole Iraqi situation.
LOWRY: That's right. Well, what he's talking about is there was an assassination attempt by the Iraqis in Kuwait against former president Bush. The evidence of this was stark, clear, unmistakable, so Clinton had to do something.
And I said all of his wars were fought mostly from 15,000 feet. His other great tool in war was cruise missiles, which also very risk-free. So they targeted the Iraqi intelligence service building, they made sure it was empty in the middle of the night so no one would be hurt, and then they launched these cruise missiles at it. This is just a stunningly flaccid response to a foreign government targeting a former U.S. president, but very much characterized the Clinton approach, which on all of these military matters and on the war on terror was just laughably weak.
LAMB: There is another Woolsey quote I want to ask you about. "I had no real institutional problems or complaints that a) I didn`t have the resources I thought I needed" -- this is at the CIA – " b) I virtually never got to see the president except in the large meetings." Had he ever admitted that before?
LOWRY: I think he has. I think he has. I think he says -- don`t hold me to this -- but he met with Clinton privately maybe twice. And this is just a stark demonstration of how little Clinton really cared about national security.
Now you can say, oh, this is just Jim Woolsey, this is this guy who is going to become this huge hawk and he just didn`t quite fit in. But then there is Louis Freeh, who for a four-year period didn`t speak to Bill Clinton. These are the two guys you need most in fighting a war on terrorism. Your CIA director, now Woolsey was just there the first two years, and your FBI director. And Clinton actually explicitly made the FBI the lead agency in fighting the war on terror, but he didn`t speak to his FBI director. And if you think about it, Monica Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey had more access to the president of the United States in the 1990s than the director of the FBI. That`s stunning.
LAMB: You said that Louis Freeh didn`t have a White House pass.
LOWRY: That`s correct. Now...
LAMB: Was that was well known at the time?
LOWRY: I`m not sure how well known that is. Freeh`s attitude very upright, upstanding guy is I`m not going to get politicized. I`m not going to go there and hobnob with Bill Clinton, because I`ll probably have to end up investigating him. And he did have to end up investigating him over and over again, and that was the seed of Clinton`s hatred -- and I use that word advisedly -- of Louis Freeh. Is that Freeh wanted to investigate the China fund-raising scandal, and Clinton was offended by that. So he cut Louis Freeh, you know, out of his orbit.
LAMB: You talked to Lanny Davis.
LOWRY: I did.
LAMB: And I`ve got a quote on page 176. "I was actually one of the point men on the Lieberman side. But I had a belief that turned out to be right: that if Joe Lieberman made a moral statement on the floor of the Senate but didn`t call for Clinton`s resignation, he would save the Clinton presidency. He would serve as an outlet for the pivot that I thought the American people were prepared for. He would condemn the conduct, pivot, "but it is not worth driving him out of office." That`s a quote from Lieberman. "So all I did was call Joe and asked him what his intentions were. He told me, and I thought it was exactly the right pivot. And I told the White House I wouldn`t touch Lieberman." Is that new?
LOWRY: That is new. And, you know, Davis says Clinton was within inches of losing his presidency. Because if Lieberman had said all of the condemnatory things he said about Clinton and therefore he should resign, that would have had an electric effect and probably brought a lot of Democrats along with Lieberman, and really left Clinton high and dry. Now what Lieberman ended up doing was using his condemnation of Clinton as a sort of safety valve, and that`s what Davis is referring to as the pivot. And this became the Democratic strategy. We all agreed that this was a terrible, awful, irresponsible thing the president has done, but there should be no consequence for it. And that`s the argument that effectively carried the day.
LAMB: You talked to Henry Hyde. What did you talk to him about?
LOWRY: I talked to him about impeachment and then some other matters having to do with his jurisdiction in the Judiciary Committee with law enforcement and whatnot. But the -- are you going to read from a Hyde quote or do you want me to...
LAMB: Just a second. The reason I`m asking you all this is because -- again -- we go back to the new information you have in your book. "I was looking for a way to resolve this. We couldn`t walk away from pursuing the president, but it was clear that we would not get the two-thirds vote in the Senate. I had hoped to get the majority anyway, and had a couple of our distinguished, courageous senators remain distinguished and courageous, we would have. I thought, having seen the text of Feinstein`s resolution of condemnation -- which was stronger than our bill of impeachment, it was excoriating -- I would not have been unhappy if that had been adopted by the Senate." Had he said that before?
LOWRY: No, he hadn`t. This is Hyde saying in the Senate he would have been willing to go along, knowing that the cause was more or less lost, with a censor resolution, which is something we had not heard before. And I think -- I defend the impeachment of Clinton. I argue he should have been impeached and convicted and removed from office. But I think the end result was fairly reasonable, which is the impeachment ended up serving as a kind of monster censure and was an unmistakable statement of disapproval of this man`s conduct.
LAMB: The other thing you did was quote extensively from other books. Jeffrey Toobin, James Stewart, Michael Isikoff, George Stephanopoulos, Sidney Blumenthal, Peter Baker, David Gergen, Bob Woodward, Michael Paterniti, Benjamin and Simon, John Miller, David Halberstam, Joe Klein, Gail Sheehy. I just mentioned that -- I want to ask you how do you chose these books and have many other people have written books where they have picked all of these quotes out of these books, because you mined them for what you were looking for.
LOWRY: Yeah. Well, I just -- I wanted to do a comprehensive account of the Clinton presidency so I read everything, and you read one book and you see references to another book, you go on to read that book, and the chain continues. Sometimes, seemingly forever when you are in the midst of it. And also...
LAMB: Why do you trust that other book, though, to have an accurate quote?
LOWRY: Well, you have to go on how reputable the author is. And I think all of those names you mentioned there are considered generally good and reputable journalists. And also, I wanted to use a lot of the Clinton people`s own books. You know, Sid Blumenthal`s account or George Stephanopoulos` account of what the president said is very trustworthy, and it is very hard for them to come back and argue with me, oh, my gosh, you know, we can`t trust your source. So...
LAMB: But weren`t those two books written from different -- really, significantly different perspectives?
LOWRY: Sure. There were. Stephanopoulos is writing as the kind of disillusioned former Clinton official who had invested so many hopes in Clinton`s promise and these hopes had been dashed. And Blumenthal is a defense of all things Clinton, and especially on the impeachment. But I don`t think -- I haven`t seen people arguing that Stephanopoulos is inaccurate or he is making up Clinton quotes.
LAMB: Of all those books, any one of them stick out as being the best?
LOWRY: Well, they all do different things and they are all useful in their own way. Stephanopoulos is a great inside view of the early administration, but there might be sort of too much Stephanopoulos in it, or too much detail for a lot of people. David Maraniss wrote a great biography of Clinton, but, again, you have to be really, really interested in Clinton to go back and read, you know, all of these details about his years at Oxford. I think all of the impeachment books are good in their own way, whether it is Toobin, who has a very different take than Mike Isikoff, whose book is also very good, or Peter Baker who covers the actual fight in Congress. They all -- or Sue Schmidt`s book, which has a very good take from Starr`s perspective. They all give you a slightly different angle.
LAMB: Footnote. Another subject, footnote 88 under -- let me see -- make sure I got the right chapter here -- his presidency, shrinking the office -- chapter two. Republicans were overmatched in the negotiations. Says one staffer, quote, this is a staffer speaking. "We would walk in there totally unprepared. Dole couldn`t get a word out of his mouth. Armey didn`t know the issues. Kasich -- John Kasich -- was running around. It was up to Newt, and one thing he didn`t know how to do was play poker. Clinton knew all he had to do was sit tight. (Interview with former GOP leadership aide.)" It sounds to me like the leadership aide was damning everybody that ran the party.
LOWRY: Well, yeah. It was -- the shutdown was a great victory for Bill Clinton. And this aide is talking about negotiations pretty late in the game where it`s clear that things have shifted Clinton`s way and all Clinton has to do is sort of string the Republicans around, convince them that he is negotiating in good faith in order to keep them around the table, and just drag things on, knowing the longer they go on the more Republicans are being hurt.
LAMB: What do you think of the Republicans all through the eight years?
LOWRY: That`s a good question. You know, I have some quotes that are very hard on Newt Gingrich, actually, from some other Republicans. Newt was a genius at understanding what had to be done to take Congress. But he was not gifted at actually holding the office of speaker and was his own worst enemy in a lot of ways. So one of Clinton`s foremost political accomplishments was destroying Newt, but he had an awful lot of help in that. And in 1996, the Republican candidate, Bob Dole, was just pathetic. I mean, he had no ideas or issues and all he could say was, you know, make attacks on Clinton`s character. And, I think, obviously lots of character flaws of Bill Clinton -- but that`s not going to -- just talking about those things isn`t going to win you the presidency. So Clinton in some ways was gifted with a weak opposition in some respects.
LAMB: If you were to take the same skills you used on looking back at Bill Clinton`s eight years and apply them to the George Bush years, what do you think you`d come up with? What would be the headline on your "Legacy for George Bush"?
LOWRY: The current, George W.?
LAMB: The current, George W.
LOWRY: It is really -- it`s too early to say. It depends a lot on Iraq. I mean, he clearly has leadership strength, he does have principles. I would argue he does have the right character. But it depends on how Iraq turns out. And if there is a decent, coherent government in Iraq that occupies the central strategically located area in the Middle East and begins to reorient Arab politics and change it, that is huge accomplishment, it will change the Middle East and literally the world. But it`s a risk. And now we are right in the middle of the toughest part of it. So, it is -- it`s early to say -- too early to say.
LAMB: Do you think he told the American people the truth getting into the war?
LOWRY: I think he told them the truth as he knew it. I think in some respects the intelligence was obviously flawed. But Bill Clinton relied on exactly the same intelligence. Every country in the world that had an intelligence service was saying basically the same things, that Saddam had had these weapons. So, this is international politics. You have to operate on the information you have when you have it. And, given what we knew at the time, he absolutely made the right decision.
LAMB: In your terrorism chapter, this quote. "A few times we almost launched an attack and found out later that the intelligence was wrong`, says a former Clinton official. "I was involved in a situation when we almost launched a cruise missile strike against a hunting party. We almost blew up the royal family of the United Arab Emirates because they were out there pheasant hunting. When you come that close and you are sitting at the principals meeting, and you have the adrenaline rush, you say," using -- he used the F word. "We almost smoked those guys." It`s funny now, but it wasn`t funny then." High ranking official?
LOWRY: Yes, he was in on these decisions, on whether to launch these missiles or not. And this is...
LAMB: Has that been told before?
LOWRY: The near launch on that hunting party has been reported before. And this was a problem with the Clinton approach. They were trying to put a cruise missile directly on Osama bin Laden`s head. That is really hard to do. That takes really good intelligence. You know, we`ve had 10,000 or more guys in Afghanistan for two years or so and we still can`t find him.
What they should have done is what Bush has done, which is widened it out. We are not hunting one guy, we are taking away his assets and his network of support, most importantly, and first and foremost in Afghanistan. And this is one of the more damning things about Bill Clinton`s presidency. He knew those terrorist training camps were there in Afghanistan. We had pretty good intelligence where most of these camps were. We knew they were producing terrorists explicitly with the goal of killing Americans, and Bill Clinton did not do anything serious about it. He did not even designate Afghanistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, which is stunning.
LAMB: Why did you decide to do a book on Bill Clinton in the middle of the George Bush presidency?
LOWRY: Well, initially I wanted to write a terrorism book. I was there in New York on September 11. My apartment is about two miles from the World Trade Center. We smelled the burning towers, you know, for weeks afterwards in our offices at "National Review." As I looked into the mistakes in American policy that had made us so vulnerable in such a terrible way, most of them were embodied by the Clinton administration.
So I wanted to write a book about the Clinton administration`s failures in the war on terrorism. But once you get into the argument, you realize that former Clinton officials might say, OK, maybe we should have done more on terrorism, but gosh, we were unnecessarily distracted by the Monica business and by impeachment, or maybe, you know, we should have paid more attention to foreign policy, but look at the economy we`ve created. So the legacy is all of a piece, and I had to go in and look at every aspect of it to get to the bottom of it, and that`s what I did.
LAMB: What did you do before you became editor of the "National Review?"
LOWRY: I have been at "National Review" for about 10 years. I started as a low level editor, then I was a writer here in Washington prior to becoming editor. Before that, I had worked right out of college for Charles Krauthammer, the syndicated columnist, as a research assistant, and then after that for about a year and a half for a local newspaper here in Virginia.
LAMB: What`s the name of the newspaper?
LAWRY: They`re called "The Connection" newspapers, they`re suburban weeklies.
LAMB: Grew up in what town?
LOWRY: Arlington, Virginia.
LAMB: Went to school, college where?
LOWRY: University of Virginia.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in being a writer?
LOWRY: It was in high school. And it was through, perfectly enough, William F. Buckley, you know, I saw his show, "Firing Line" and, you know, I enjoyed the argument. I picked up the magazine and I read his books, and from the time I was in high school I realized I wanted to be an opinion writer, and I have been blessed to be able to do it.
LAMB: What was your family like? Why were you interested at that time?
LOWRY: My family -- my dad, who is retired now, was an English professor. So a lot of books around the house, and I was always a reader.
LAMB: Where was he a professor?
LOWRY: At Trinity College, a Catholic school in Washington, D.C. Not a very political household, but an emphasis on reading.
LAMB: How about your mom?
LOWRY: She was a social worker in the city of Alexandria. Not very political, but a very bright woman and a reader as well.
LAMB: So what would you credit your views to? Was it -- is it William F. Buckley, your actual political views?
LOWRY: Yes, Buckley and Reagan. My parents were Reagan voters. You know, they were turned off -- Democrats in the Carter years, as many middle class families were, you know, with inflation and other economic problems, and, you know, the humiliations abroad. So it was generally a Republican environment in my household, but not an extremely political or ideological one.
LAMB: In your acknowledgments, you have a couple of little things I want to ask you about. "David Rifkin, my nominee for the next secretary of state, read several chapters." Why is he your nominee for the next secretary of state?
LOWRY: He will love that you asked that question. That`s a little good natured exaggeration, but he is a lawyer here in Washington and an expert on international law, and he`s been very helpful to me in terms of understanding international law and the rules of warfare, and was also very generous in reading portions of the book. And when you are a would-be author and you are in the midst of writing a book, you are just so pathetically grateful for people who take the time out to read parts of the manuscript, because everyone is busy, they have more important things to do. A manuscript is very rough, you know, by nature. And there are a couple of people in particular who were very generous with their time.
LAMB: When did you start this book?
LOWRY: In June -- June 2002.
LAMB: And how many of these quotes that I read were in person interviews versus over the phone interviews?
LOWRY: Most of them were in person. You just -- when you are in a room with someone, you establish a connection that is not as disembodied and there tends to be more trust.
LAMB: Did you tape the interviews?
LOWRY: Yes, I taped them all. I have stacks and stacks of tapes.
LAMB: What are you going to do with your tapes?
LOWRY: I haven`t thought about that. They will probably end up in a shoebox somewhere.
LAMB: There is other little things, these questions are going to get tougher, in your acknowledgments. This one is Jennifer Woodecheck. Patience...
LAMB: Thank you. Patience -- I am sure, you would correct that. "Patience and impatience were both helpful in their own ways. She is bright, beautiful and kind." Who is she?
LOWRY: She`s my girlfriend. And this was a huge burden for her, because I wrote this book when I was, you know, editor of "National Review" and I was writing a syndicated column and I was appearing on TV with the Fox News Channel. So I had a lot going on, so a lot of the time to do this and the energy came out of my personal life, which effectively meant it came out of my time with her. And when I say her patience and impatience, she was very supportive but she was also very eager for me to finish this thing, and that helped goad me on.
LAMB: And finally, a special thanks to "Big Daddy" and to Borden. Who are they?
LOWRY: Big Daddy is a colleague at "National Review" named Kevin Longstreet. And he is a dear friend, he is a great Yankees fan, as I am as well. He likes a good time and his nickname is "Big Daddy." Borden is actually a friend of mine named Ric Andersen, who is mentioned by name elsewhere in the acknowledgments, so he is the only one who got thanked twice, but he does some acting down here in D.C. and one of his first rolls was a guy named Borden. So we joked a lot about Borden, so I just put that in knowing that we would enjoy it.
LAMB: You dedicate the back to "Mom and Dad who surrounded me with books and love, and then to Robert who laughs more than anyone I know." Who`s Robert?
LOWRY: Robert`s my older brother, he is 40 years old, he is handicapped so he will never have a chance to do something like this. But he is most joyous sort of jolly person I know, which is just a wonderful quality for anyone to have, and I wanted to acknowledge it in the book.
LAMB: You picked Regnery to publish this book. Is this your first book?
LOWRY: It`s my first book, yes.
LAMB: Regnery, right away everyone knows it`s conservative. Why did you pick that imprint?
LOWRY: Because they are so good at conservative books. They`ve been doing it for a long time. They know how to sell them. They know how to do them. And they are just wonderful to work with and extremely patient, and I should mention one of the editors there, Harry Crocker, who worked with me through most of this. You know, when I was in my struggles writing it, you are always, you know, you are descending into a kind of neurosis when you are an author trying to finish a book. Whenever I would send him something, you know, a bit of a manuscript or a question, he would just say, just keep on keeping on. And it`s like, you know, that`s not much advice, just keep going. But it`s exactly right. And that`s all you can do as a writer is just keep on going, and eventually, after day after day after day, it is going to add up to a book.
LAMB: Harry Crocker was our guest for his book on Robert E. Lee.
Back to your book. Nixon -- you are writing this -- "Nixon`s corruption brought to power a cadre of aggressive liberals." You`ve got -- actually, you have to listen very carefully to this to get it. "Nixon`s corruption brought to power a cadre of aggressive liberals. Clinton`s corruption exposed liberals` thirst to defend what power they still had. Nixon`s corruption attracted critics whose idealism was forged in their fight against his misconduct. Clinton`s corruption attracted defenders whose idealism was blunted in their fight to defend his misconduct. Nixon`s corruption led to the creation of a new edifice of ethics legislation in Washington. Clinton`s corruption led to its dismantling or irrelevancy." How long did it take to you write that paragraph?
LOWRY: Again, that was a process of just thinking about all of the scandal politics. And at the end of one of the scandal chapters. And, you know, liberals -- they created the independent counsel statute and they loved it because they knew the independent counsel was great at dogging and maybe even destroying presidencies. They created the campaign finance rules. They created the sexual harassment rules. And then they get this guy in office who thumbs his nose at all of it, and then suddenly they want to ignore it all. And that is what I mean by saying that their idealism was blunted.
LAMB: Parse this paragraph for a moment. "Nixon`s corruption brought to power a cadre of aggressive liberals." Deal with that one.
LOWRY: So you had the Watergate babies in Congress, you had Woodward and Bernstein, sort of investigative reporters who tend to be liberals. You have folks like Hillary Clinton, who were, you know, young lawyers on the committees investigating Nixon who got credentialed through that.
LAMB: Next sentence, "Clinton`s corruption exposed liberals` thirst to defend what power they still had."
LOWRY: You, I think, a more idealistic bunch would have kicked Clinton overboard and said, well, you know, we`ll settle for Al Gore. You know, that`s good enough. But they were desperate to hold on to the presidency and hold on to it in the person of Bill Clinton, because they just thought he was so good politically.
LAMB: "Nixon`s corruption attracted critics whose idealism was forged in their fight against his misconduct."
LOWRY: Basically the same people I was talking about earlier, the Watergate babies, the journalists, the Hillary Clinton, crusading lawyers.
LAMB: "Clinton`s corruption attracted defenders whose idealism was blunted in their fight to defend his misconduct."
LOWRY: When you look at someone like Sidney Blumenthal, who is really just kicked over all standards and idealism to defend this guy, this extremely flawed person. And I can see saying -- arguing that some of these Clinton policies were a success despite the person of Bill Clinton and what he did. But that`s not what someone like Blumenthal argues. He argues that, you know, the policies were a miraculous success and he was wonderful, which is just -- it doesn`t pass the laugh test, in my mind.
LAMB: What do you think of the legacy of Richard Nixon?
LOWRY: I think it was a poor one. He, you know, helped really send trust in the U.S. government into the tank with Watergate, which was a very real scandal. Foreign policy and detente I don`t think were the right policy and were eventually reversed to great effect by Ronald Reagan, and he expanded the welfare state. So from my perspective there`s not much to be said for him.
LAMB: A quote from Bernie Nussbaum, whose job in the Clinton administration was what?
LOWRY: White House counsel.
LAMB: "Lawrence Walsh was probably responsible for Clinton`s election when he totally sandbagged the Bush administration." That is a quote to you?
LOWRY: That is a quote to me. And he was referring to the last minute indictments of Cap Weinberger and some others that stalled any momentum that the first Bush had in the 1992 election. And this -- I just want to say how much I admire Bernie Nussbaum and Lanny Davis, because they are honest Clinton defenders on the scandal stuff. They are honest about where the scandal machine was started and who used it first, which was the liberals and the Democrats.
And someone like Bernie Nussbaum, I haven`t heard him talk about the latest scandal, obsession in Washington, the Wilson affair, but I`m sure he is saying exactly the same thing he said in the Clinton administration, which is we don`t need a special prosecutor, special prosecutors are always a mistake. Have congressional investigations or have the career Justice Department people do it. That is a consistent position.
LAMB: Time`s almost up. But Bill Clinton has the gooiest foreign policy in history?
LAMB: What does it mean?
LOWRY: It was foreign policy as social work. And, you know, they thought it mattered a lot who was cutting down trees in Ecuador and, you know, what child welfare policy was in various places across the world. And what they could not do was identify the enemies of the United States like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and go after them aggressively, because that`s fundamentally what they didn`t like to do temperamentally. They preferred the social work and the goo.
LAMB: If somebody said, we want another book out of you, and you were interested, what would you write about it right now? Based on this experience.
LOWRY: I have no idea. No idea. It was so arduous that I want to take a breather, and last thing I want to do at the moment is think about writing another one.
LAMB: The cover of the book looks like this, the name of the book is called "Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years." By Rich Lowry, who is the editor of "The National Review," and we thank you very much.
LOWRY: Thanks so much.
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